A small Russian spacecraft appears to have been struck by remnants of a destroyed Chinese satellite, reports SpaceDaily.com. It’s just the second time in history that an active spacecraft has collided with an artificial object while in orbit.
The collision took place between Russia’s Ball Lens in the Space (BLITS) spacecraft and China’s Fengyun 1C satellite, according to the Center for Space Standards and Innovation (CSSI), based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The collision appears to have occurred on January 22, although it took over a month to determine what exactly hit the craft.
The BLITS nanosatellite was being used for precise SLR (Satellite Laser Ranging) measurements. It was very small. The nanosatellite has an outer diameter of ~17 cm and a mass of 7.53 kg.
The BLITs satellite was reportedly hit by “space junk” left over from when the Chinese weather satellite was destroyed in a 2007 anti-satellite demonstration. The debris has posed a threat to satellites and crewed spacecraft ever since, according to Space.com.
The 2007 Chinese satellite intercept was the first known successful test since 1985, when the United States conducted a similar anti-satellite missile test using an ASM-135 ASAT to destroy the P78-1 satellite. In February 2008 the US used it as an opportunity to launch its own strike to destroy a malfunctioning US satellite.
Currently about 19,000 pieces of space debris larger than 5 cm are tracked, with another 300,000 pieces smaller than 1 cm below 2000 km altitude.
Some computer models revealed that the amount of space debris “has reached a tipping point, with enough currently in orbit to continually collide and create even more debris, raising the risk of spacecraft failures”. A report has called for international regulations to limit debris and research into disposing of the debris.
Or maybe someone’s worried about The Quantum Space Race.
A collision between an Iridium satellite and a Russian satellite occurred 490 miles (790 km) above Siberia in 2009. The space station flies in an orbit about 220 miles (354 km) above Earth. “This is like over 400 kilometers above the station, so we do believe that some of the debris is going down through station altitude. But it’s a very, very small minority of the debris clouds,” said Nicholas Johnson. The NY Times has an interactive graphic.
Meanwhile, this week, SBIRS GEO 2, built by Lockheed Martin, and its United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 booster were joined together as the duo targets a March 19 blastoff from Cape Canaveral. It will perform its own maneuvering into a circular geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the planet for checkout and commissioning into the nation’s missile-warning constellation.
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